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Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Message May 22, 2022

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Christ is Risen!

Truly He is Risen!

Last Sunday, following the Divine Liturgy (and a wonderful lunch sponsored by amazing Russian and Ukranian members of parish family), we held our Spring Parish Assembly. Among other business, we shared the latest details on our building project. When I see you tomorrow morning for Sunday Divine Liturgy, we you will notice, even from now, significant progress.

I would like to share with you, the prayer I lifted up on behalf of our community, to begin the blessed process of transforming our massive space into sacred space.
Please, don’t just read the following words, pray them. Lift them up in your voice. Please speak to God through your heart. 

As of Monday, the mess began. And so does the fun, excitement and anticipation. By God’s grace, I offer this for your consideration…

Let us Pray to the Lord.

Lord Have Mercy.

O God Almighty, Who made the Heavens with wisdom and has established the earth upon its sure foundations, the Creator and Author of all men, look upon these Your servants, the parishioners of your St. Anna Church, dedicated to the ministry, witness and eternal memory of Your maternal grandmother. Grant these Your children to whom it has seemed good to build up a house of worship, in the dominion of Your Power, and to rear it by building; establish it upon a stable rock, and found it according to Your divine word in the Gospel, so that neither wind, nor flood, nor any other thing shall be able to harm it; graciously grant that we may bring it to completion, and deliver all us who shall wish to worship therein from every attack of the evil one.

You, O Lord, gave your instructions to build the Ark of the Covenant to house the tablets of Your Commandments.

You, O Lord, before the coming of the flood waters, gave your instructions to build the Ark of Noah, thus preserving life on Earth, awaiting Your redemption and mercy,

You, O Lord, gave the instructions upon which Your Temple was built in Jerusalem, so that your people would know You, Find You and worship You.

You, O Lord are the architect of life, the creator of existence, the designer of this word, the heavens and all that exists.

You are the builder of the Church. For You, O Lord, are the Church.

Lord God, bless our efforts as we begin the task of transforming the building, which in Your wisdom, and through the clear intercessions of St. Anna, has been received by your people.

Bless the hands of the craftsmen who are charged with the transformation of a Garden Center, to the Center of Your Garden. Allow us to find here, Your Kingdom. Allow us to walk through Your Garden Gates to find comfort, peace, refreshment, respite, clarity and grace.

Lord, keep the construction workers and all who will enter herein for the following many months, safe from and harm or injury.

Lord, please continue to inspire in us a spirit of sacrifice, generosity, and vision. Allow us to see to the end, a house dedicated to you: a dignified space of Orthodox worship. A place for fellowship and learning. A place for gathering as a Christian people of service and outreach.

Lord, let this transformed place, with bells tolling, and voices singing, be a source of witness to the greater community. Let the people see a transfigured space and divinely purposed grounds, that your face may shine upon them. Let them be introduced to You through the efforts we are about to undertake. 

Lord Christ our God, You have guided us to this place. Inspire and strengthen us. Grant us patience and understanding in the coming months as our spiritual lives will no doubt be inconvenienced and disrupted at times. Let the challenges of each passing day not cause us frustration or resentment, but rather show us the greater and ultimate purpose that will be revealed in the end.

Lord, never let our spirit of gratitude ebb or fade. We are grateful for all of the abundant gifts that You have showered down upon us. Keep us mindful that You are the one and only reason we have embarked on such an ambitious journey.

Lord, allow us to enjoy every milestone, point of progression and completed task in our church construction project. Every new wall, stone, door, tile and hinge will be placed to bring You glory.

Lord. We ask of You. Bless the beginning steps of this effort.

For Yours is the dominion, and Yours is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Christ is Risen From the Dead, Trampling Down Death by Death, and upon Those in the Tombs He is Bestowing Life. Truly the Lord is Risen!

With Much Love and Gratitude in our Risen Lord,

Fr. Anthony Savas
Protopresbyter

Categories
Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Message May 8, 2022

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!

I hope, pray and trust that these days of the Resurrection bring you joy, hope and inspiration. We are heading into the summer with much anticipation, many changes to our physical campus, and a continued sense of urgency to keep us gathered together as a family in Christ. We are one family in Christ.

A couple months ago, we started to notice an increase in church attendance and ministry activities. This is a great blessing.  Seeing faces from a pandemic ago as Holy Week and Pascha emerged made us all feel very happy. What can make us feel better as a faith community, than rekindled relationships?  We’ve also been blessed to meet many new visitors, inquirers and families who have recently moved into the area.

But I want to make something very clear and publicly known that neither myself nor our parish council take a single family or individual for granted. Our St. Anna parish is barely eight years old. Even in these few years, people have come and gone, attended and moved, bought in, bowed out. Especially as we headed into the pandemic. This reality was certainly not unique to our parish. No matter your industry, institution, enterprise, or otherwise, disbursement, displacement and disappearance has been a harsh reality. 

As a pastor, my vocation and life’s work is relationships. I try to foster stronger ones, strive to mend broken ones, and hope to create new ones. That is, relationships between you and me, you and each other, and absolutely, positively, most-importantly, between all of us and God. During the rest of the Spring and into the Summer, you will really see how serious I and your parish council are about the good health of our relationships. 

Parish Council President, Steve Simos and I have identified several, distinct ministry and demographic groups within our St. Anna parish. Working with our parish council, we are going to be planning and hosting several open houses with these individual groups. That way, we can listen to the exact reasons we may have drifted these last couple years. We can learn what to do better as a parish, irregardless of pandemic-related issues. We want active feedback and hope for a strong and shared commitment to the spiritual well being of our community. We can all work together with a shared vision for our immediate and long-range future.

Much investment in time and resources are being dedicated to just that – our future, with the build out of our sanctuary and facilities. The exterior of the church will soon be unmistakably recognizable as an Orthodox Christian church.

Again, will it look like a post card from the Greek Islands? No.

Will it have whitewashed walls and a blue dome? No.

Will it convey traditional and defined characteristics of a Greek Orthodox house of worship? Absolutely!

And of course, that’s just the outside. Inside the sanctuary itself, there will be no question about the sacred atmosphere of which we are accustomed. 

Just like our building is transforming somewhat on the outside, but especially on the inside, this is what must take place within each one of us, as well. Every individual person and family, lay people and clergy, young and old, cradle Orthodox and adult converts, must be inspired to grow, expand and change. All of us!

Just like the physical structure of our church, the spiritual structure of our parish must be transfigured as well – ministries, classes, gatherings, parish communications, outreach, individual witness and worship – they all need sharpening in delivery and in participation. What a blessed opportunity for us to press upward and forward.
I hope to mirror our spiritual transformation with our physical transformation. Otherwise, what would be the point of repurposing our building in the first place?

Doing all of this just off a disruption of coronavirus’ magnitude is, what I believe, perfectly timed. We’re going to make lemonade out of a two-year lemon!

Even though the actual Feast of Pascha has come and gone, we are still very much in the days of the Resurrection. We find warmth in the glow which continues to radiate from Christ’s empty tomb. In the life of the Church, these are the happiest, most joy-filled days. Let Pascha, the Feast of Renewal, the Feast of Restoration, the Feast of Transformation come alive in the change of our building and the change in our hearts. Let the expansion of our building parallel the expansion of our horizons. Let the beautification of our space make our souls, once again, white as snow.

Dear and lovely people of our St. Anna family. Congratulations on all you’ve accomplished. God bless you for your vision and focus. Let me, once again thank you for your unyielding commitment and sustained generosity.

When you are called upon to participate in your Open House(s), please don’t hesitate or hold back. Get ready! Changes are coming. In brick and mortar. And in hearts and souls.

With Much Love in our Risen Lord,

Fr. Anthony Savas
Protopresbyter

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Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Message April 10, 2022

The image of God was faithfully preserved in you, O Mother. For you took up the Cross and followed Christ.By Your actions you taught us to look beyond the flesh for it passes, rather to be concerned about the soul which is immortal.
Wherefore, O Holy Mary, your soul rejoices with the angels.

Hymn of St. Mary of Egypt

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Tomorrow, we come to the fifth and final Sunday of Great Lent. The next time we gather for Sunday worship, we will usher Christ triumphantly into Jerusalem with the commemoration of Palm Sunday (see attached flyer). But tomorrow, we have presented to us, the unique life, trials and glory of St. Mary of Egypt.

St. Mary of Egypt left nothing but an oral account of her life when she met St. Zossimas of Palestine. After she slept in the Lord, her life story was passed down orally by the fathers at his monastery, until St. Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, recorded it around the end of 7th century AD.

According to this account, St. Mary lived during the reign of the Emperor Justinian, in mid-6th century AD. She was born in Egypt in a small town outside Alexandria. In her early teen years she fled her home and went to Alexandria where she lived for about seventeen years in poverty but also in promiscuity, giving herself freely to any man who would spend a few hours with her. 

St. Mary was about thirty years old when she heard of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the Holy Land. She decided to join the group but did not have enough money to pay for the trip, so she arranged to offer her body in exchange for the fare. When the pilgrim group arrived in Jerusalem, they went to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to venerate the Precious Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. St. Mary found that it was impossible for her to enter; she was held back by a mysterious force like an invisible wall standing in front of her. She then realized that her careless and sinful life prevented her from venerating the Holy Cross. 

She broke into tears of repentance, praying to the Theotokos to help her. Immediately, the invisible wall disappeared and Mary entered the church, kneeled in front of the icon of the Theotokos, and then venerated the Holy Cross. At that moment, she heard a voice telling her to go to the desert of the River Jordan where she would have the help, guidance, and protection of the Theotokos. 

Mary did as she was told, and traveled to the desert on foot. She lived there in total solitude, battling her passions, crying, praying, and eating and sleeping as little as possible. In her darkest hours, she had the help of the Theotokos who never abandoned her. After years of toiling in solitude,

St. Mary reached the highest level of perfection: her body was not in need of clothes or nutrition, and by God’s Grace she was granted the gift of foreseeing.  

Forty-seven years after St. Mary retreated in the desert, another monastic, St. Zossimas, who, as was the tradition at his monastery, had gone to dwell in the desert during Great Lent, reached the place of her seclusion. St. Mary approached him in a miraculous way, told him her life story, and asked him to come again the following year to offer her Holy Communion. St. Zossimas was amazed to have discovered this hidden ascetic, more so a woman, who had reached spiritual perfection.

St. Zossimas visited St. Mary again the next year on Holy Thursday. To reach him, St. Mary crossed the Jordan River without touching the water. She received Holy Communion, and returned to the desert. The following year, St. Zossimas went out again to meet the Saint, and found her dead body peacefully lying on the ground. An inscription nearby informed him that she had slept in the Lord right after receiving Holy Communion, and instructed him to do her funeral service and bury her body. St. Zossimas did as instructed. It is said that a lion came to help him dig St. Mary’s grave. Upon return to his monastery, he shared the precious secret with the brotherhood, and St. Mary’s story was passed on orally until written down about a century later. (Account from Orthodox Pebbles)

Much Love in XC,

Fr. Anthony Savas

Protopresbyter

Categories
Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Message April 3, 2022

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

How much it must grieve a father or a mother to see his or her child suffering without reason. To undergo pain and confusion — for what? Where is God in our plight — we may often ask ourselves. Where is God in all this pain and confusion?

Today we arrive at the fourth week of Lent. In today’s Gospel reading we heard of a father who was on his last hope. His son was possessed by a certain spirit from childhood, which was causing his son pain and confusion. Not even Jesus’ disciples could cure the boy. He brought his son to Jesus, who upon hearing of the father’s plight became exceedingly upset at the whole crowd and expressed these strong and direct words “Oh you faithless generation, how much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you.” The Child was immediately brought close to Jesus and the spirit convulsed him instantly. As we know the child was eventually healed. But at what price one may ask? The father accepted and confessed his unbelief and beseeched God with tears to make his faith complete? This is the price, the fulfillment of our faith — payed by Christ himself yet we must pray and beseech Him as well.

It is perhaps important to stress here that this miracle account nowhere refers to the spirit by any title such as demon, or devil. It is perhaps because this spirit is in reference to the spirit of this world, the enemy of Christ. It is the spirit of this generation well rooted in society, it is passed on to our children like a virus. Brethren remember these words well — it is the spirit of this generation which throws our youth about like the child with the spirit we heard earlier today. It smashes them to the ground, it throws them into the fire to be burnt, it throws them into the water to be drowned — today its drugs, alcohol, gambling, anything to distort the image and likeness of God, within them.

This spirit has a very old history going way back to primordial Man, Adam and Eve. It is firmly established and can not come out by anything — except, as our Lord instructed Moses, as our Lord instructed his disciples, as our Lord instructs us today, by beseeching God through prayer and fasting.

“Why could we not cast it out”, his disciples asked their master in shame. We also must ask why can’t we cast this spirit out from our lives and our children’s lives?

Brethren, because as our Lord tells us “This kind can come out by nothing except prayer and fasting”. This is the key to contrite repentance. this twofold formula which treads on the head of this serpent of old and yields our first step towards heaven — contrite repentance.

It is no coincidence then that the first and second steps of Saint John’s 30 chapter book The Ladder (of Divine Ascent) are concerned with the renunciation of this life, this world we live in and detachment from all it’s pleasures. We honor Saint John of the Ladder today as a great Saint of our church who reminds us that going to heaven is not as easy as getting into an elevator and pressing a button. On the contrary, it is a long and hazardous climb which is impossible to scale fully unless we beseech God for assistance. May God grant us all fullness of faith, peace and joy on our climb to heaven — Amen. (From the Orthodox Research Institute)


With Love in Christ,

Fr. Anthony Savas
Protopresbyter

Categories
Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Message March 27, 2022

O Lord, save Your people and bless Your inheritance; grant victory to the faithful over their adversaries. And protect Your commonwealth, by the power of Your Cross.

Hymn of the Precious and Live-Giving Cross

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Tomorrow, on the Third Sunday of Great and Holy Lent, the Orthodox Church commemorates the Precious and Life-Giving Cross of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Services include a special veneration of the Cross, which prepares the faithful for the commemoration of the Crucifixion during Holy Week.

The commemoration and ceremonies of the Third Sunday of Lent are closely parallel to the feasts of the Veneration of the Cross (September 14) and the Procession of the Cross (August 1). Not only does the Sunday of the Holy Cross prepare us for commemoration of the Crucifixion, but it also reminds us that the whole of Lent is a period when we are crucified with Christ.

As we have “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24), and will have mortified ourselves during these forty days of the Fast, the precious and life-giving Cross is now placed before us to refresh our souls and encourage us who may be filled with a sense of bitterness, resentment, and depression. The Cross reminds us of the Passion of our Lord, and by presenting to us His example, it encourages us to follow Him in struggle and sacrifice, being refreshed, assured, and comforted. In other words, we must experience what the Lord experienced during His Passion – being humiliated in a shameful manner. The Cross teaches us that through pain and suffering we shall see the fulfillment of our hopes: the heavenly inheritance and eternal glory.

As they who walk on a long and hard way and are bowed down by fatigue find great relief and strengthening under the cool shade of a leafy tree, so do we find comfort, refreshment, and rejuvenation under the Life-giving Cross, which our Fathers “planted” on this Sunday. Thus, we are fortified and enabled to continue our Lenten journey with a light step, rested and encouraged.

Or, as before the arrival of the king, his royal standards, trophies, and emblems of victory come in procession and then the king himself appears in a triumphant parade, jubilant and rejoicing in his victory and filling those under him with joy, so does the Feast of the Cross precede the coming of our King, Jesus Christ. It warns us that He is about to proclaim His victory over death and appear to us in the glory of the Resurrection. His Life-Giving Cross is His royal scepter, and by venerating it we are filled with joy, rendering Him glory. Therefore, we become ready to welcome our King, who shall manifestly triumph over the powers of darkness.

The present feast has been placed in the middle of Great Lent for another reason. The Fast can be likened to the spring of Marah whose waters the children of Israel encountered in the wilderness. This water was undrinkable due to its bitterness but became sweet when the Holy Prophet Moses dipped the wood into its depth. Likewise, the wood of the Cross sweetens the days of the Fast, which are bitter and often grievous because of our tears. Yet Christ comforts us during our course through the desert of the Fast, guiding and leading us by His hand to the spiritual Jerusalem on high by the power of His Resurrection.

Moreover, as the Holy Cross is called the Tree of Life, it is placed in the middle of the Fast, as the ancient tree of life was placed in the middle of the garden of Eden. By this, our Holy Fathers wished to remind us of Adam’s gluttony as well as the fact that through this Tree has condemnation been abolished. Therefore, if we bind ourselves to the Holy Cross, we shall never encounter death but shall inherit life eternal.

Source Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America

Fr. Anthony Savas
Protopresbyter

Categories
Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Message March 6, 2022

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Even with the blessings of Great Lent which is immediately upon us, there are no words that can, or should, take our attention away from the catastrophic atrocities that are taking place some 6,000 miles away in Ukraine. As Christians, we pray for the safety of the innocents and hope that the balm of peace can heal the wounds of war. I am no expert on any subject that speaks to this situation at hand. I recently read an article written by the Rev. Dr. John Chryssavgis,  a former professor at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology and spokesman of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. His is a voice I trust.

Dn. John is a brilliant scholar and a tremendously beautiful human being. He offered his thoughts on the invasion of Ukraine and its implication on the Church and society. We, as Orthodox Christians – lay people, clergy, hierarchs in particularly must take seriously the words of Dn. John. They will challenge us, they will jolt us, they will convict us, they will inspire us to strive to be imitators of Christ.


May God be merciful to us. May He make His face to shine upon us. May He bless us. 

Dn. John:

Few, if any, would go so far as to claim that Patriarch Kirill, as head of the Orthodox Church in Russia (or “the Russias,” as he likes to say), could be charged with crimes against humanity or war crimes for not preventing unwarranted and unjustifiable military aggression that has cost innocent lives in just the last few days. At the same time, many, if not most, would concur that President Putin should be charged with such atrocities.

Even with his egregious violations of conventional law, however, Putin could never destroy the international order by himself without the loyal support and moral endorsement—whether silent or explicit—of a complicit partner-in-crime. Both state and church there dream of a larger world, a universal Russia, a “Russian World” (Russkiy Mir). But when the punching gloves and the bling vestments are removed, each is using the other for its own interests for imperialism or irredentism; and both are promoting division in an increasingly bi-polar world.

Edward Gibbon long ago derided: “So intimate is the connection between throne and altar, that the banner of the church has very seldom been seen on the side of the people.” In the end, for Putin, the church is merely instrumental, just another arrow in his quiver to reconstitute the Soviet Union, an atheist state. But this time it is under the guise of a Christian theocracy refashioned in the image of the Romanov dynasty, whose double-headed eagle has replaced the Soviet hammer and sickle throughout Russia. Just as Kirill, too, is more than happy to oblige in the re-creation of a powerful church machine aligned with and backed by the state. No blurring of church-state lines here. As for their “soldiers”—secular military and spiritual militants—God alone knows what they have been told they are fighting for.

The critical question, of course, is how the rest of us respond to this 9/11 moment for Europe and the rest of the world. Friends and colleagues have addressed geopolitical aspects or religious ideologies at stake. Without reducing a horrific crime to an academic conversation—whether sociological or ecclesiastical, psychological or geopolitical—I want to limit myself to a personal perspective and experience. I trust that the reader will appreciate my reluctance to lecture or posture on history or theology, and ecclesiology or canon law, when the invasion still rages.

As a clergyman, never in my life have I been so horrified by the pathetic reactions of leaders in my church to current events in the past several years. At the very same time as they scurried to prepare pre-Lenten sermons on the “judgment passages” in Matthew 25 or preach on abstaining from meat—which they define as animals with a backbone!—they issued the most anemic statements about the war of Russia on Ukraine, unable to go beyond the call to pray, while forgetting that Christ himself demonstrated indignation at injustice.

I was hardly as surprised when they blundered more recently through COVID-19, with responses ranging from outright asininity to blatant irresponsibility. But I could not help but compare the tepid assurances of prayers to reactions after mass shootings. And I certainly could not help but wonder why bishops who proudly  parade in “right to life” marches did not take to the streets for the “right to defense” of their Ukrainian—Orthodox in so many cases—brothers and sisters. At least Pope Francis stepped outside his office and stepped inside his Fiat to appeal in person to the Russian ambassador. The Archbishop of Canterbury unequivocally condemned Russia’s attack on Ukraine as “an act of great evil.” And the Ecumenical Patriarchate is the only Orthodox Church outside Ukraine to decry Russia’s unprovoked actions as “a violation of human rights and brutal violence against human beings.”

The reality is that the Orthodox Churches have abysmally neglected over the centuries to instruct or inspire their congregations in a way that meaningfully influences and shapes civil society about assuming a stand before socio-political challenges or standing up to failures of a broken state. The truth is that through most of history they have painfully succumbed or perversely submitted to the state, hardly disposed or competent to stand beside a laity exposed to the church’s impotence and the state’s ignorance. How tragic that it was left to the fearless protesters in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and elsewhere in Russia to expose both.

As an American, never in my life have I been so astounded by the partisan breakdown of support for and criticism of Putin, who is dismantling basic norms once taken for granted. The same ideological clash of worldviews is reflected in our own domestic context, where basic norms are likewise under threat. Still, the admiration of certain political pundits for Putin’s clever strategy or worthy ideals is almost unprecedented, rivalled only by the commensurate admiration of certain Orthodox Christians for Putin’s strong faith and deep piety.

I sincerely hope that fellow Americans will not be fixated on prices at the gas pump, for which the administration resorts to apologizing to the public and which the opposition reduces to accusations against the government. Hopefully we have learned from the last European war about the perils of silence and indifference, of waiting too long before confronting Hitler. Hopefully, too, we have learned that the world order—and not just Ukraine’s freedom—is at stake, as embattled Ukrainian President Zelensky has bravely articulated in videos from Kyiv, crying in a wilderness.

Putin has brazenly violated the international order, just as Kirill has flagrantly ignored the ecclesiastical order by breaking communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate over its right to grant autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, another courageous breakaway from Kirill’s Russias. The response of the global community (including the United States) will determine whether and how law prevails in the long term. And the response of the religious community (including the Orthodox Church) will determine whether and how love prevails in the long term.

If faith has taught me something, it is that, in the grand scheme of things, progress is possible and even inevitable. Whether with reluctance or resistance, Russia will at some point be forced to disabuse itself of its historical dreams or ideological destiny and walk with the rest of the world in the twenty-first century. Whether the Orthodox leaders know it or like it, the world may take a step backward for a period of time, but it will invariably move many more steps forward.

History may sometimes flatter “sophisticated” villains—secular and spiritual. But history never flatters shameless villains—who do not even pretend to charm their constituents. And if theology has taught me something, it is that, in the far-reaching perspective of God, evil never prevails over good. Sin can never be the final or perpetual word. Neither will Putin’s monstrosity. Nor, quite frankly, will Kirill’s passivity.


Rev. Dr. John Chryssavgis is a deacon of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.


With Love in Christ,

Fr. Anthony Savas
Protopresbyter

Categories
Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Message February 20, 2022

Real humility has nothing to do with creating in myself a low self-image or making myself feel guilty. It means recognizing that all my talents and virtues are gifts from God, gifts for which I am profoundly thankful. These gifts are entrusted to me so I can share them with people around me. I also share in their gifts, for which I am thankful to those people and to God. Real humility is also a recognition in practice that God loves each of my neighbors just as he loves me, so each one is invaluable.

Sr. Nonna Verna Harrison

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

As many of you know, I was in Southern California during the middle of this past week for the funeral service of an old friend, Sr. Nonna Harrison. Though you may not have come into contact with her, she knew of our community very faithfully. I have also written about her once or twice in my weekly messages to the community. At only 68 years old, Sr. Nonna left this world too soon, but leaves behind a spiritual legacy in her prolific writings and in the hearts of her former students, colleagues, sister monastics, family and friends. She had a brilliant mind, a kind heart, a patient soul, a high tolerance for pain and suffering, and above all, she loved Jeus Christ. She served Him. She followed Him. She trusted in Him. She studied Him and she taught Him.

Sr. Nonna was a well-known scholar in the fields of Patristics and early church history. She primarily taught at non-Orthodox seminaries with the hope of exposing the broader, Western cadre of Christendom to the importance of the formational centuries of the Church. In so doing, of course, she exposed them to Orthodoxy. Her studies took her from Yale University to Oxford University to Berkely. Her home library was like nothing I’ve ever seen and her ability to spot translate from Ancient Greek to English was impressive. 

Even more impressive was the fact that she was legally and almost entirely blind. She had one eye that was always shut, and the other, she described as looking through a cardboard paper towel tube. 

For the last year and a half, right up until her stroke about five weeks ago, she used her two good ears, and her one, partial eye, and faithfully worshipped with us at St. Anna’s via live stream. 

Your parish was her parish.

This tall, imposing and yes, even intimidating nun was prayerfully standing at your side as you came to church. She prayed with you. She sang with you. She did everything but receive Communion with you. It was her intention to one day travel here and worship with us in person – to offer a Bible Study, conduct a retreat, teach a lesson. Her health did not permit this goal to become a reality. But of course, from the glory of Christ’s Heavenly Throne, she continues to pray with, and for us. 

Sr. Nonna was laid to rest in the beautiful mountains above Santa Paula, California. Nestled in those glorious hills, is the small Monastery of St. Barbara. The Abess, Mother Victoria was gracious to receive Sr. Nonna for her final, earthly resting place, and to allow me to be the celebrant of her funeral. My participation in her final act of Christian witness was an opportunity for her to be connected, for the last time, to our St. Anna parish. This parish brought her great joy, our services, in her own words, were the “source of countless blessings.” Every member of our community was spiritually beside me as we laid her to rest. 

Sr. Nonna’s primary academic interest was in the area of theological anthropology. She expanded the question of what it means to be human by contemplating what it means to be human, created in God’s image. This was her life’s work. This was her passion. She taught us to see God’s imprint in all aspects of life, not just in our faces, (that is, the literal image) but in all avenues of connectedness. 

I have attached a brief article she wrote several years ago entitled “Serving and Being Served as Image of God.” This is one of my favorites among her essays. She had a knack for helping us see God’s imprint upon us in the most unexpected of places. Great Lent is nearing. We should all be personally and collectively challenged to use those days wisely, to be better individuals upon the completion of the Fast, and to translate our new-found transformation into benefits for the common good. 
Sr. Nonna could not see, but she could feel. She was sensitive to the plights of the oppressed and her heart was greatly wounded for the sake of those who suffer. In the coming days of intensified spiritual warfare, let us include her in our prayers for inspiration, strength, focus, purpose, clarity, gratitude and compunction. 

We may have lost a mighty warrior here on earth. But we gained a prayerful advocate in Heaven.

Sr. Nonna, may your Memory be Ever Eternal.

With Love in XC

Fr. Anthony Savas
Protopresbyter

Categories
Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Message January 30, 2022

Rejoice, O Virgin Theotokos, Full of Grace! From you shone the Sun of Righteousness, Christ our God, enlightening those who sat in darkness! Rejoice and be glad, O righteous elder; you accepted in your arms the Redeemer of our souls who grants us the resurrection – 

Troparion Hymn of the Feast

Dear Brothers and sisters in Christ,

The Feast of our Lord’s Presentation into the Temple is this Wednesday Morning. Orthros is at 8:00 am followed by the Divine Liturgy at 9:00 am. We will also commemorate our Second Anniversary of the First Divine Liturgy in our present church building. Recall the special blessings and events of that mystically vibrant day. Our hearts were afire as each and every one of us carried a sacred object from our former location to our present. His Eminence Metropolitan Isaiah commenced services that morning with the Orthros at St. Thomas More, and he met us to open the doors in our new church. You all worked and prayed so hard for that day to come. 

You have continued to be visionary, generous, committed, Spirit-filled, and faithful, as we continue our journey toward the Kingdom. Much has taken place during our short history. To His glory, much work still remains, building up our body of believers and serving the needs of His precious lambs. For us, in the last church location we shall ever need, this journey continued on the day of the Presentation. What a glorious Feast, it is! 

Forty days after Christ was born, He was presented to God in the Jerusalem Temple according to the Mosaic Law. At this time as well His mother Mary underwent the ritual purification and offered the sacrifices as prescribed in the Law. Thus, forty days after Christmas, on the second of February, the Church celebrates the feast of the presentation called the Presentation of the Lord.

The meeting of Christ by the elder Simeon and the prophetess Anna (Luke 2:22–36) is the main event of the feast of Christ’s presentation in the Temple. It was “revealed to Simeon by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (Luke 2:26) and, inspired by the same Spirit, he came to the Temple where he met the new-born Messiah, took Him in his arms and said the words which are now chanted each evening at the end of the Orthodox Vespers service:

Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for mine eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for the revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel.

Luke 2:29–32

At this time as well, Simeon predicted that Jesus would be the “sign which is spoken against” and that He would cause “the fall and the rising of many in Israel.” He also foretold Mary’s sufferings because of her son (Luke 22:34–35). Anna also was present and, giving thanks to God “she spoke of Jesus to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38).

In the service of the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, the fact emphasized is that Christ, the Son and Word of God through Whom the world was created, now is held as an infant in Simeon’s hands; this same Son of God, the Giver of the Law, now Himself fulfills the Law, carried in arms as a human child.

Receive him, O Simeon, whom Moses on Mount Sinai beheld in the darkness as the Giver of the Law. Receive him as a babe now obeying the Law. For he it is of whom the Law and the Prophets have spoken, incarnate for our sake and saving mankind. Come let us adore him!

Let the door of heaven open today, for the Eternal Word of the Father, without giving up his divinity, has been incarnate of the Virgin in time. And as a babe of forty days he is voluntarily brought by his mother to the Temple, according to the Law. And the elder Simeon takes him in his arms and cries out: Lord now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, O Lord, who has come to save the human race—glory to Thee!

Vespers Verses of the Feast

The Vespers and Orthros of the feast of the Presentation of the Lord are filled with hymns on this theme. The Divine Liturgy is celebrated with the lines from the canticle of Mary forming the prokeimenon and the words of Simeon being the verses for the Alleluia. The gospel readings tell of the meeting, while the Old Testament readings at Vespers refer to the Law of the purification in Leviticus, the vision of Isaiah in the Temple of the Thrice-Holy Lord, and the gift of faith to the Egyptians prophesied by Isaiah when the light of the Lord shall be a “revelation to the Gentiles” (Luke 2:32).

The celebration of the Presentation of the Lord in the church is not merely a historical commemoration. Inspired by the same Holy Spirit as Simeon and led by the same Spirit into the Church of the Messiah, the members of the Church also can claim their own “meeting” with the Lord, and so also can witness that they too can “depart in peace” since their eyes have seen the salvation of God in the person of his Christ.

With Love in Christ,

Fr. Anthony Savas
Protopresbyter

Categories
Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Message January 23, 2022

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

This Tuesday is the Feast of St. Gregory the Theologian, one of the three “Doctors” of the Church. Orthros begins at 8:00 am followed by the Divine Liturgy at 9:00 am.

Saint Gregory the Theologian, Archbishop of Constantinople, a great Father and teacher of the Church, was born into a Christian family of eminent lineage in the year 329, at Arianzos (not far from the city of Cappadocian Nazianzos). His father, also named Gregory (January 1), was Bishop of Nazianzus. The son is the Saint Gregory Nazianzus encountered in Patristic theology. His pious mother, Saint Nonna (August 5), prayed to God for a son, vowing to dedicate him to the Lord. Her prayer was answered, and she named her child Gregory.

When the child learned to read, his mother presented him with the Holy Scripture. Saint Gregory received a complete and extensive education: after working at home with his uncle Saint Amphilochios (November 23), an experienced teacher of rhetoric, he then studied in the schools of Nazianzos, Caesarea in Cappadocia, and Alexandria. Then the saint decided to go to Athens to complete his education.

On the way from Alexandria to Greece, a terrible storm raged for many days. Saint Gregory, who was just a catechumen at that time, feared that he would perish in the sea before being cleansed in the waters of Baptism. Saint Gregory lay in the ship’s stern for twenty days, beseeching the merciful God for salvation. He vowed to dedicate himself to God and was saved when he invoked the name of the Lord.

Saint Gregory spent six years in Athens studying rhetoric, poetry, geometry, and astronomy. His teachers were the renowned pagan rhetoricians Gymorias and Proeresias. Saint Basil, the future Archbishop of Caesarea (January 1) also studied in Athens with Saint Gregory. They were such close friends that they seemed to be one soul in two bodies. Julian, the future emperor (361-363) and apostate from the Christian Faith, was studying philosophy in Athens at the same time.

Upon completing his education, Saint Gregory remained for a certain while at Athens as a teacher of rhetoric. He was also familiar with pagan philosophy and literature.

In 358 Saint Gregory quietly left Athens and returned to his parents at Nazianzus. At thirty-three years of age, he received Baptism from his father, who had been appointed Bishop of Nazianzus. Against his will, Saint Gregory was ordained to the holy priesthood by his father. However, when the elder Gregory wished to make him a bishop, he fled to join his friend Basil in Pontus. Saint Basil had organized a monastery in Pontus and had written to Gregory inviting him to come.

Saint Gregory remained with Saint Basil for several years. When his brother Saint Caesarius (March 9) died, he returned home to help his father administer his diocese. The local church was also in turmoil because of the Arian heresy. Saint Gregory had the difficult task of reconciling the bishop with his flock, who condemned their pastor for signing an ambiguous interpretation of the dogmas of the faith.

Saint Gregory convinced his father of the pernicious nature of Arianism and strengthened him in Orthodoxy. At this time, Bishop Anthimus, who pretended to be Orthodox but was really a heretic, became Metropolitan of Tyana. Saint Basil had been consecrated as the Archbishop of Caesarea, Cappadocia. Anthimus wished to separate from Saint Basil and to divide the province of Cappadocia.

Saint Basil the Great made Saint Gregory bishop of the city of Sasima, a small town between Caesarea and Tyana. However, Saint Gregory remained at Nazianzos in order to assist his dying father, and he guided the flock of this city for a while after the death of his father in 374.

Upon the death of Patriarch Valentus of Constantinople in the year 378, a council of bishops invited Saint Gregory to help the Church of Constantinople, which at this time was ravaged by heretics. Obtaining the consent of Saint Basil the Great, Saint Gregory came to Constantinople to combat heresy. In the year 379 he began to serve and preach in a small church called “Anastasis” (“Resurrection”). Like David fighting the Philistines with a sling, Saint Gregory battled against impossible odds to defeat false doctrine.

Heretics were in the majority in the capital: Arians, Macedonians, and Appolinarians. The more he preached, the more did the number of heretics decrease, and the number of the Orthodox increased. On the night of Pascha (April 21, 379) when Saint Gregory was baptizing catechumens, a mob of armed heretics burst into the church and cast stones at the Orthodox, killing one bishop and wounding Saint Gregory. But the fortitude and mildness of the saint were his armor, and his words converted many to the Orthodox Church.

Saint Gregory’s literary works (orations, letters, poems) show him as a worthy preacher of the truth of Christ. He had a literary gift, and the saint sought to offer his talent to God the Word: “I offer this gift to my God, I dedicate this gift to Him. Only this remains to me as my treasure. I gave up everything else at the command of the Spirit. I gave all that I had to obtain the pearl of great price. Only in words do I master it, as a servant of the Word. I would never intentionally wish to disdain this wealth. I esteem it, I set value by it, I am comforted by it more than others are comforted by all the treasures of the world. It is the companion of all my life, a good counselor and converser; a guide on the way to Heaven and a fervent co-ascetic.” In order to preach the Word of God properly, the saint carefully prepared and revised his works.

In five sermons, or “Theological Orations,” Saint Gregory first of all defines the characteristics of a theologian, and who may theologize. Only those who are experienced can properly reason about God, those who are successful at contemplation and, most importantly, who are pure in soul and body, and utterly selfless. To reason about God properly is possible only for one who enters into it with fervor and reverence.

Explaining that God has concealed His Essence from mankind, Saint Gregory demonstrates that it is impossible for those in the flesh to view mental objects without a mixture of the corporeal. Talking about God in a positive sense is possible only when we become free from the external impressions of things and from their effects, when our guide, the mind, does not adhere to impure transitory images. Answering the Eunomians, who would presume to grasp God’s Essence through logical speculation, the saint declared that man perceives God when the mind and reason become godlike and divine, i.e. when the image ascends to its Archetype. (Or. 28:17). Furthermore, the example of the Old Testament patriarchs and prophets and also the Apostles has demonstrated, that the Essence of God is incomprehensible for mortal man. Saint Gregory cited the futile sophistry of Eunomios: “God begat the Son either through His will, or contrary to will. If He begat contrary to will, then He underwent constraint. If by His will, then the Son is the Son of His intent.”

Confuting such reasoning, Saint Gregory points out the harm it does to man: “You yourself, who speak so thoughtlessly, were you begotten voluntarily or involuntarily by your father? If involuntarily, then your father was under the sway of some tyrant. Who? You can hardly say it was nature, for nature is tolerant of chastity. If it was voluntarily, then by a few syllables you deprive yourself of your father, for thus you are shown to be the son of Will, and not of your father” (Or. 29:6).

Saint Gregory then turns to Holy Scripture, with particular attention examining a place where it points out the Divine Nature of the Son of God. Saint Gregory’s interpretations of Holy Scripture are devoted to revealing that the divine power of the Savior was actualized even when He assumed an impaired human nature for the salvation of mankind.

The first of Saint Gregory’s Five Theological Orations is devoted to arguments against the Eunomians for their blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Closely examining everything that is said in the Gospel about the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity, the saint refutes the heresy of Eunomios, which rejected the divinity of the Holy Spirit. He comes to two fundamental conclusions. First, in reading Holy Scripture, it is necessary to reject blind literalism and to try and understand its spiritual sense. Second, in the Old Testament the Holy Spirit operated in a hidden way. “Now the Spirit Himself dwells among us and makes the manifestation of Himself more certain. It was not safe, as long as they did not acknowledge the divinity of the Father, to proclaim openly that of the Son; and as long as the divinity of the Son was not accepted, they could not, to express it somewhat boldly, impose on us the burden of the Holy Spirit” (Or. 31:26).

The divinity of the Holy Spirit is a sublime subject. “Look at these facts: Christ is born, the Holy Spirit is His Forerunner. Christ is baptized, the Spirit bears witness to this… Christ works miracles, the Spirit accompanies them. Christ ascends, the Spirit takes His place. What great things are there in the idea of God which are not in His power? What titles appertaining to God do not apply also to Him, except for Unbegotten and Begotten? I tremble when I think of such an abundance of titles, and how many Names they blaspheme, those who revolt against the Spirit!” (Or. 31:29).

The Orations of Saint Gregory are not limited only to this topic. He also wrote Panegyrics on Saints, Festal Orations, two invectives against Julian the Apostate, “two pillars, on which the impiety of Julian is indelibly written for posterity,” and various orations on other topics. In all, forty-five of Saint Gregory’s orations have been preserved.

The letters of the saint compare favorably with his best theological works. All of them are clear, yet concise. In his poems as in all things, Saint Gregory focused on Christ. “If the lengthy tracts of the heretics are new Psalters at variance with David, and the pretty verses they honor are like a third testament, then we also shall sing Psalms, and begin to write much and compose poetic meters,” said the saint. Of his poetic gift the saint wrote: “I am an organ of the Lord, and sweetly… do I glorify the King, all tremble before Him.”

The fame of the Orthodox preacher spread through East and West. But the saint lived in the capital as though he still lived in the wilderness: “his food was food of the wilderness; his clothing was whatever necessary. He made visitations without pretense, and though in proximity of the court, he sought nothing from the court.”

The saint received a shock when he was ill. One whom he considered as his friend, the philosopher Maximus, was consecrated at Constantinople in Saint Gregory’s place. Struck by the ingratitude of Maximus, the saint decided to resign the cathedral, but his faithful flock restrained him from it. The people threw the usurper out of the city. On November 24, 380 the holy emperor Theodosius arrived in the capital and, in enforcing his decree against the heretics, the main church was returned to the Orthodox, with Saint Gregory making a solemn entrance. An attempt on the life of Saint Gregory was planned, but instead the assassin appeared before the saint with tears of repentance.

At the Second Ecumenical Council in 381, Saint Gregory was chosen as Patriarch of Constantinople. After the death of Patriarch Meletius of Antioch, Saint Gregory presided at the Council. Hoping to reconcile the West with the East, he offered to recognize Paulinus as Patriarch of Antioch.

Those who had acted against Saint Gregory on behalf of Maximus, particularly Egyptian and Macedonian bishops, arrived late for the Council. They did not want to acknowledge the saint as Patriarch of Constantinople, since he was elected in their absence.

Saint Gregory decided to resign his office for the sake of peace in the Church: “Let me be as the Prophet Jonah! I was responsible for the storm, but I would sacrifice myself for the salvation of the ship. Seize me and throw me… I was not happy when I ascended the throne, and gladly would I descend it.”

After telling the emperor of his desire to quit the capital, Saint Gregory appeared again at the Council to deliver a farewell address (Or. 42) asking to be allowed to depart in peace.

Upon his return to his native region, Saint Gregory turned his attention to the incursion of Appolinarian heretics into the flock of Nazianzus, and he established the pious Eulalius there as bishop, while he himself withdrew into the solitude of Arianzos so dear to his heart. The saint, zealous for the truth of Christ, continued to affirm Orthodoxy through his letters and poems, while remaining in the wilderness. He died on January 25, 389, and is honored with the title “Theologian,” also given to the holy Apostle and Evangelist John.

In his works Saint Gregory, like that other Theologian Saint John, directs everything toward the Pre-eternal Word. Saint John of Damascus (December 4), in the first part of his book An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, followed the lead of Saint Gregory the Theologian.

Saint Gregory was buried at Nazianzos. In the year 950, his holy relics were transferred to Constantinople into the church of the Holy Apostles. Later on, a portion of his relics was transferred to Rome.

In appearance, the saint was of medium height and somewhat pale. He had thick eyebrows, and a short beard. His contemporaries already called the archpastor a saint. The Orthodox Church, honors Saint Gregory as a second Theologian and insightful writer on the Holy Trinity. 

With Love in XC,

Fr. Anthony Savas

Protopresbyter

Categories
Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Message January 16, 2022

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I pray that the coming week is filled with God’s grace upon you and that His loving care surrounds and protects you. I am hearing from so many families who are affected by Covid in their homes. Please, prayerfully be well. Stay home if you are feeling symptomatic in any way. And do all you can to stamp out this spike.

At the beginning of the week, we will celebrate the lives of two important saints in the life of the Church: St. Anthony the Great (January 17) and St. Athanasios the Great (January 18). We will celebrate the Divine Liturgy on Monday only but include the hymns of both during services.

Saint Anthony the Great is known as the Father of monasticism, and the long ascetical sermon in The Life of Saint Anthony by Saint Athanasios (Sections 16-34), could be called the first monastic Rule.

He was born in Egypt in the village of Coma, near the desert of the Thebaid, in the year 251. His parents were pious Christians of illustrious lineage. Anthony was a serious child and was respectful and obedient to his parents. He loved to attend church services, and he listened to the Holy Scripture so attentively, that he remembered what he heard all his life.

When Saint Anthony was about twenty years old, he lost his parents, but he was responsible for the care of his younger sister. Going to church about six months later, the youth reflected on how the faithful,in the Acts of the Apostles (4:35), sold their possessions and gave the proceeds to the Apostles for the needy.

Then he entered the church and heard the Gospel passage where Christ speaks to the rich young man: “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow Me” (Mt.19:21). Anthony felt that these words applied to him. Therefore, he sold the property that he received after the death of his parents, then distributed the money to the poor, and left his sister in the care of pious virgins in a convent.

Leaving his parental home, Saint Anthony began his ascetical life in a hut not far from his village. By working with his hands, he was able to earn his livelihood and also alms for the poor. Sometimes, the holy youth also visited other ascetics living in the area, and from each he sought direction and benefit. He turned to one particular ascetic for guidance in the spiritual life.

In this period of his life Saint Anthony endured terrible temptations from the devil. The Enemy of the race of man troubled the young ascetic with thoughts of his former life, doubts about his chosen path, concern for his sister, and he tempted Anthony with lewd thoughts and carnal feelings. But the saint extinguished that fire by meditating on Christ and by thinking of eternal punishment, thereby overcoming the devil.

Realizing that the devil would undoubtedly attack him in another manner, Saint Anthony prayed and intensified his efforts. Anthony prayed that the Lord would show him the path of salvation. And he was granted a vision. The ascetic beheld a man, who by turns alternately finished a prayer, and then began to work. This was an angel, which the Lord had sent to instruct His chosen one.

Saint Anthony tried to accustom himself to a stricter way of life. He partook of food only after sunset, he spent all night praying until dawn. Soon he slept only every third day. But the devil would not cease his tricks, and trying to scare the monk, he appeared under the guise of monstrous phantoms. The saint however protected himself with the Life-Creating Cross. Finally, the Enemy appeared to him in the guise of a frightful looking small dark figure, and hypocritically declaring himself beaten, he thought he could tempt the saint into vanity and pride. The saint, however, vanquished the Enemy with prayer.

For even greater solitude, Saint Anthony moved farther away from the village, into a graveyard. He asked a friend to bring him a little bread on designated days, then shut himself in a tomb. Then the devils pounced upon the saint intending to kill him and inflicted terrible wounds upon him. By the providence of the Lord, Anthony’s friend arrived the next day to bring him his food. Seeing him lying on the ground as if dead, he took him back to the village. They thought the saint was dead and prepared for his burial. At midnight, Saint Anthony regained consciousness and told his friend to carry him back to the tombs.

Saint Anthony’s staunchness was greater than the wiles of the Enemy. Taking the form of ferocious beasts, the devils tried to force the saint to leave that place, but he defeated them by trusting in the Lord. Looking up, the saint saw the roof opening, as it were, and a ray of light coming down toward him. The demons disappeared and he cried out, “Where have You been, O Merciful Jesus? Why didn’t You appear from the very beginning to end my pain?”

The Lord replied, “I was here, Anthony, but wanted to see your struggle. Now, since you have not yielded, I shall always help you and make your name known throughout all the world.” After this vision Saint Anthony was healed of his wounds and felt stronger than before. He was then thirty-five years of age.

Having gained spiritual experience in his struggle with the devil, Saint Anthony considered going into the Thebaid desert to serve the Lord. He asked the Elder (to whom he had turned for guidance at the beginning of his monastic journey) to go into the desert with him. The Elder, while blessing him in the then as yet unheard-of exploit of being a hermit, decided not to accompany him because of his age.

Saint Anthony went into the desert alone. The devil tried to hinder him, by placing a large silver disc in his path, then gold, but the saint ignored it and passed by. He found an abandoned fort on the other side of the river and settled there, barricading the entrance with stones. His faithful friend brought him bread twice a year, and there was water inside the fort.

Saint Anthony spent twenty years in complete isolation and constant struggle with the demons, and he finally achieved perfect calm. The saint’s friends removed the stones from the entrance, and they went to Saint Anthony and besought him to take them under his guidance. Soon Saint Anthony’s cell was surrounded by several monasteries, and the saint acted as a father and guide to their inhabitants, giving spiritual instruction to all who came into the desert seeking salvation. He increased the zeal of those who were already monks, and inspired others with a love for the ascetical life. He told them to strive to please the Lord, and not to become faint-hearted in their labors. He also urged them not to fear demonic assaults, but to repel the Enemy by the power of the Life-Creating Cross of the Lord.

In the year 311 there was a fierce persecution against Christians, in the reign of the emperor Maximian. Wishing to suffer with the holy martyrs, Saint Anthony left the desert and went to Alexandria. He openly ministered to those in prison, he was present at the trial and interrogations of the confessors and accompanying the martyrs to the place of execution. It pleased the Lord to preserve him, however, for the benefit of Christians.

At the close of the persecution, the saint returned to the desert and continued his exploits. The Lord granted the saint the gift of wonderworking, casting out demons and healing the sick by the power of his prayer. The great crowds of people coming to him disrupted his solitude, and he went off still farther, into the inner desert where he settled atop a high elevation. But the brethren of the monasteries sought him out and asked him to visit their communities.

Another time Saint Anthony left the desert and arrived in Alexandria to defend the Orthodox Faith against the Manichaean and Arian heresies. Knowing that the name of Saint Anthony was venerated by all the Church, the Arians said that he adhered to their heretical teaching. But Saint Anthony publicly denounced Arianism in front of everyone and in the presence of the bishop. During his brief stay at Alexandria, he converted a great multitude of pagans to Christ.

People from all walks of life loved the saint and sought his advice. Pagan philosophers once came to Abba Anthony intending to mock him for his lack of education, but by his words he reduced them to silence. Emperor Constantine the Great (May 21) and his sons wrote to Saint Anthony and asked him for a reply. He praised the emperor for his belief in Christ, and advised him to remember the future judgment, and to know that Christ is the true King.

Saint Anthony spent eighty-five years in the solitary desert. Shortly before his death, he told the brethren that soon he would be taken from them. He instructed them to preserve the Orthodox Faith in its purity, to avoid any association with heretics, and not to be negligent in their monastic struggles. “Strive to be united first with the Lord, and then with the saints, so that after death they may receive you as familiar friends into the everlasting dwellings.”

The saint instructed two of his disciples, who had attended him in the final fifteen years of his life, to bury him in the desert and not in Alexandria. He left one of his monastic mantles to Saint Athanasius of Alexandria (January 18), and the other to Saint Serapion of Thmuis (March 21). Saint Anthony died peacefully in the year 356, at age 105, and he was buried in the desert by his disciples.

The Life of the famed ascetic Saint Anthony the Great was written by Saint Athanasius of Alexandria. This is the first biography of a saint who was not a martyr, and is considered to be one of the finest of Saint Athanasius’ writings. Saint John Chrysostom recommends that this Life be read by every Christian.

“These things are insignificant compared with Anthony’s virtues,” writes Saint Athanasius, “but judge from them what the man of God Anthony was like. From his youth until his old age, he kept his zeal for asceticism, he did not give in to the desire for costly foods because of his age, nor did he alter his clothing because of the infirmity of his body. He did not even wash his feet with water. He remained very healthy, and he could see well because his eyes were sound and undimmed. Not one of his teeth fell out, but near the gums they had become worn due to his advanced age. He remained strong in his hands and feet…. He was spoken of everywhere, and was admired by everyone, and was sought even by those who had not seen him, which is evidence of his virtue and of a soul dear to God.”

The following works of Saint Anthony have come down to us:

Twenty Sermons on the virtues, primarily monastic (probably spurious).

Seven Letters to various Egyptian monasteries concerning moral perfection, and the monastic life as a spiritual struggle.

A Rule for monastics (not regarded as an authentic work of Saint Anthony).

In the year 544 the relics of Saint Anthony the Great were transferred to Alexandria, and after the conquest of Egypt by the Saracens in the seventh century, they were transferred to Constantinople. The holy relics were transferred from Constantinople in the tenth-eleventh centuries to a diocese outside Vienna. In the fifteenth century they were brought to Arles (in France), to the church of Saint Julian. (Source OCA)

With Love in Christ,

Fr. Anthony